Lunya, since opening in Liverpool One in 2010, has become a by-word for quality Catalan cuisine. Now, its little sister, Lunyalita – a new addition to the Albert Dock – is proving to be a sibling with similar strengths, and an added exuberance of youth.
Nestled within the arches next to the Beatles Story, Lunyalita offers a contemporary cosiness and dockside vistas alongside classic Iberian styling; its central bar, open kitchen and mini deli creating an inclusive, social space. This is a fusion of styles reflected in a menu that occasionally and playfully blends Lunya and Liver, dishes such as Catalan Scouse conjuring the impression that ‘over the water’ we might find Barcelona, rather than Birkenhead. Overall, though, the evening fare, plentiful in its options of £5-8 tapas, smacks of its Spanish roots.
As an apéritif, the vi ranci, translated as ‘rancid wine’ is anything but; rather, a robust and palate-awakening oxidised wine, similar to a medium-dry sherry and alive with oak and burnt sugar.
The staff know their stuff, and Rebecca, a fantastic host throughout, runs us through the ins and outs of the tapas with astute recommendations. Eight long-pondered choices later and we make inroads into a beautifully-balanced and well-priced bottle of Vallemayor white Rioja, and instantly forget what we’ve ordered.
As it turns out, this is hit after hit of boldness and simplicity, with locally-sourced and loyally-executed plates, which allow their star ingredients to shine. The boquerones – zingy marinated anchovies – spark of Costa del somewhere else, their seaside saltiness echoed by the almost-mandatory calamari, which are hands-down the best to be had without panic over maximum baggage allowance. These are gloriously thick rings of Elvisly tender squid, enveloped in an audible, crisp beer batter that speaks of the kitchen’s passion for getting the right things right.
This attention to detail separates the restaurant from others that may aspire, and is evident in the patatas bravas, so often ordered as (disappointing) filler. Here, they are unquestionably killer, betraying their basic appearance with a real tribute to the architecture of the spud. Closer to roasties than to chips, these provide the ideal vessel for their smothering of smoky bravas sauce and allioli. Meanwhile, the classic gambas pil-pil are a lesson in how to treat a prawn: succulence and sweetness accented by plentiful garlic and subtle chilli. Their olive oil speaks in sizzles, begging to be mopped up by local Baltic Bakehouse bread, and really, who are we to refuse?
You’ll also have to go a long, long way to find a better croqueta, and with the filling changing here every few days, I’d call off the search and loop back to Lunyalita. Today’s are a fine example of the restaurant’s creative vein, a crack into the breadcrumb shell revealing a béchamel rich with morcilla (black pudding), and a seasonally spiced streak that works wonders with the accompanying apple purée.
The special of slow-cooked pork cheeks requires no teeth, falling apart on command and delivering a homely hug of well-seasoned meatiness, melding Merseyside and Mallorca. The star dish, however – and the rest take some beating – is our host’s ‘must-have’ recommendation of honey-laden and deep fried Monte Enebro goats’ cheese. This is an unassuming slab of delight that fizzes with flavour, punching a smile across your chops with tart jabs, buttery uppercuts, and sweet hooks. Knockout stuff.
Full, but not floored, space is found behind an ever-loosening belt for a pair of champion desserts. The Galician tarta de Santiago takes the humble almond to new heights in a dense, multi-textured cake, swayed this way and that by quality local ice cream and a vibrant raspberry coulis. Finally, the chocolate y churros – Spanish staple of the homeward-bound late-night reveller – rounds-off with crisp, looping strands of cinnamon-sugared doughnut and a melted chocolate pot of dream-inducing depths.
The rest of the evening menu is certainly going to require more of my attention, while the varied breakfasts, larger lunches, and wine-tasting events on offer mean that a planned mid-winter Catalunyan getaway will have to be shelved. I plan to camp now on the Albert Dock.